Human rights violations continue in Cordillera

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

DESPITE new laws enacted to further protect human rights in the country, many persons continue to report abuses.

Newly enacted laws such as Republic Act 9745 or the Anti-Torture Law and Republic Act 10353 or the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act remain hardly implemented or appreciated by various government agencies including state forces.

Commission on Human Rights Regional Director Harold Kub-aron in Tuesday's Regional Human Rights Consciousness Week celebration said violations in the region remain low and not a trend but isolated cases of abuse persist especially in far-flung communities.

Cases of extrajudicial killings, summary executions and arbitrary detentions, however, are not non-existent. He said there have been cases of abuse but are not limited to violations of state forces, as both sides, the right and the left, also commit abuse.

In his report, majority of cases of human rights violence are perpetrated by civilians and unidentified perpetrators and not state forces like the AFP and the PNP or rebel groups such as the New People’s Army.

From January to September this year, some 27 regular cases of HR violations were brought to the attention of CHR while some 97 other legal services were rendered by the commission.

Majority of these cases include violations of the International Humanitarian Law such as cases of rape, violence against women and children.

However, other cases also include at least three cases of torture, six cases of summary execution, two cases of unlawful searches and unnecessary arrests and two cases of enforced disappearance.

Lack of awareness of basic human rights remains a hindrance for most communities. Kub-aron admitted they remain tight-lipped on abuses whenever the commission reaches out for monitoring and verification of cases in the communities.

The regional director said while there have been reports from militant groups of various human rights violations all these reports need to be verified in the communities since several complaints often turn out negative.

Kub-aron said there are reports of violations in a certain community but do not have complaints from its members. This then warrants an in-depth probe from the commission.

But he said there are also valid complaints include violations of International Humanitarian Law during encounters of military and the police against rebel groups.

He said another factor for the low report of human rights violations is the lack of appreciation of some agencies which need to have a deeper understanding of human rights.

Various agencies of the government, he said, may have the basic knowledge of human rights but fail to apply and practice this.

Until agencies have a real appreciation and application of human rights, will the government fully respect the rights of the people, he added.

Meantime, Cordillera Human Rights Alliance secretary general Jude Baggo in their 2013 Human Rights Situationer reported violations committed against Indigenous Peoples persist including abuse of their civil and political rights.

Laws meant to protect the rights of the people are circumvented to benefit only a few, he said. Baggo added laws such as the Anti-Torture and Anti-Enforced Disappearance laws remain unimplemented and sometimes unheard of in some communities.

Baggo highlighted the violation of the rights of IPs on self-determination and decision making processes which include disregarding rights to freely determine issues related to the exploitation of natural resources.

The human rights leader said government insists on offering mineral resources to big corporations without consent from the communities which might be affected by the new development.

He also assailed continued red tagging of at least 28 names of development workers and human rights defenders, including him, included in the target lists of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as alleged supporters of the New People’s Army.

This according to Baggo is not new to them as there has been red tagging in the past years especially on activists and development workers.

Another case of human rights violations which he pointed is purported by the AFP include the use of children in counter-insurgency operations, encampment in schools, construction of permanent detachment near schools and using children as guides and sources of information including children of revolutionaries to win over their parents.

The CHRA report also detailed incidents of using civilian guides for both the AFP and police operations in Sagada, Mountain Province as well as an incident of torture in Lagangilang, Abra.

Another notable incident where incidents of human rights violations recently occurred in Malibcong, Abra and in Aguid, Sagada as aerial strikes and bombing between the military and the police versus rebel groups endangered nearby communities including residential and agricultural areas, the report stated.

The human rights organization also questioned the strengthening of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army through their integration into the AFP saying this only intensified what they alleged as paramilitary groups.

The CHRA secretary general said there seems to be no resolution to some of their cases brought to the attention of the Commission on Human Rights whose delayed response to violations often changes the gravity of the violations committed against communities.

This as he urged the CHR to act promptly on cases they bring to the commission’s attention if only to get the real picture of abuses of human rights in many areas often those which are far-flung and poverty stricken.

He said there have been undocumented cases by the CHR. This as he called on the CHR’s continued engagement in investigations and real dialogue with civil society organizations in documenting human rights violations.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 11, 2013.

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